I’m pleased to introduce you to our featured illustrator of the month, Patti Blau. Patti designed the poster and bookmark for our Book Club this month. I was first attracted to her work because of the beautiful fashion portraits she creates. I knew she’d be the perfect person to tap into the vibe of Umbrellas of Cherbourg. She has an interesting story to tell and I loved reading more about her (especially her closeness with Jean Michel Basquiat!).

Interview with Patti Blau

When did you know you wanted to be an illustrator? Did you go to school for it? What was that experience like? How did it turn into a career?

I am a graduate of Parsons School of Design in NYC. When I first applied to Parsons, I was accepted in the Illustration Department. After about a month of school though, I decided to study Fine Art, switched to that department and graduated with a BFA. However, I have always been an illustrator. My paintings and sculptures are always literal representations of objects and things we easily recognize, and I often paint them with a mid century influence.

I create iconic symbols of what we have around us, sort of like an inventory. Recently I reconnected with that illustrative part of my sensibilities and began illustrating. In that regard,

it is a career that is still evolving.

Do you think you have to go to school to become an illustrator?

I do not think you have to go to school to be an illustrator, but I think it is to an artist’s advantage to study art. That can be done in many ways, especially with today’s social media, but the rigorous study, and exactly what to study, is a discipline often learned by studying with experienced professionals. School is a safe place to explore and connect.

What are you most proud of in your career?

I am proud of everything that I create! Some things are more successful than others, of course, but just to be able to do what I love makes me proud.

Did you have anyone along the way that was instrumental in the trajectory of your life? 

Jean Michel Basquiat and I were good friends when I was living in NYC, and at the time, I was very influenced by his work. As for a trajectory from knowing him, I would say that he had a great use of line and he incorporated text and images together. He also had a tremendous passion and energy about art, and we shared that. He always encouraged me. I was also friends with many other artists with whom I traveled and attended many art shows and galleries all over the world. I learned so much about art and art history, and that has always been one of my strengths.

What’s your work space like?

My workspace is a jumble of many things! I collect lots of different ephemera and objects. I have a graphics company for many years called writeables.com, and we redesign and produce greeting cards and paper goods with a vintage style, so because of that passion I have boxes of old cards, and vintage objects for inspiration. I also have an ETSY shop, vintagebeachkids, where I sell many of the things I collect. I work right in the middle of all of this creative stuff!

I like to work with the TV on in the background. I can sit for hours at a time and just keep going, I usually like to finish something before I can stop…but that’s not always possible. I have started working digitally and I love that. I do love to paint though, and alternate between the two. I use watercolor, gouache, and colored pencils. I had a larger studio space prior to moving to my house and I was able to paint there in oils and acrylic. Now that’s not so easy in this space, but basically I love color, and any way I can create with it.

Did you always have an ultimate plan?

 I never have an ultimate plan! Maybe I should!

What’s a typical day like for you?

A typical day…hhhmmmm, well, I have two dogs right now so I am often up early. I teach Art part time so I have that responsibility on certain days. The other days are spent working on  my own projects and jobs. I love to go to the thrift stores and flea markets, so I spend hours there just looking. I like to read and draw and I go to the gym. That would be very typical day.

I am always doing something.

Where do you live? How does that influence your work? 

I grew up in New York with a second home in Jamaica, BWI so the combination of those two places led me to relocate to Miami, Florida. I really like the warm weather, the nature and the light. It is not as casual as living on the islands though. Miami is a pretty busy city with lots going on. Art Basel and the new art district has really helped make Miami an interesting city with museums, galleries and events. Having internet makes us a global community though.

I think an artist can live where they are inspired, and still participate globally. I have created artwork for publications around the world I never would have imagined connecting with.

How has social media influenced your work?

I love social media because it brings exposure and creates a community. I am very inspired by other artists. I really enjoy watching people progress in their craft and I am amazed by the variety of opportunities that make use of the tremendous talent that’s available. I think there is a real need for digital content and there are many artists who can create for that industry.

What’s inspiring you lately? 

I have always been, and continue to be, inspired by mid century design. I am always inspired by vintage ephemera, advertising, graphics and type. I use lots of vintage references in my collages. I also watch a lot of film. I love books and stories and illustrations and always find new resources for inspiration. Nature and light inspire me, which is one reason I live in Miami. Contemporary art and artists also inspire me everyday. I really like the art of so many artists!

What did you want to be when you were young versus when it was time to decide what to actually do?

As an artist, I’ve been one my whole life. Whatever jobs and careers I have experienced and

work I do is all a part of me being an artist and creating in different mediums. I think when you are young, you have an idealized view of what a career is, but for many artists it can take many forms. I think creating a body of work is a lifelong journey, and as long as I have the freedom and ability to create, I am doing exactly what I thought I would do.

Thank you for telling us more of your story, Patti. Stay tuned for next month’s featured illustrator! 

You can find Patti here

See more of Patti’s work here

Follow Patti on Instagram